Maine Computer Crimes Task Force

By Webber, Michael | Law & Order, May 2002 | Go to article overview
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Maine Computer Crimes Task Force

Webber, Michael, Law & Order

Cybercrime can be divided into two categories: traditional crimes and network crimes. Traditional crimes are threats- child pornography, fraud, gambling, extortion and theft of intellectual property- and all are migrating from the physical to the online world. This migration into the Internet frontier is occurring because criminals are realizing that they can reach more victims quickly, collaborate with other criminals and use the global nature of the Internet to remain relatively anonymous.

The Internet has also spawned an entirely new set of criminal activity that targets computer networks. Included among network crimes are hacking, releasing viruses and shutting down computers by flooding them with unwanted information. Our vulnerability to, and the damages caused by, this type of crime is incredibly high.

Cybercrime is a real and serious threat. Its complexity and constant progressive nature present tremendous challenges to law enforcement. Solutions to these challenges require novel approaches and close teamwork among agencies and with the private sector. There also is an urgent requirement for highly trained officers, armed with the right investigative tools and equipment, to gather, process and analyze data from computers and networks to acquire critical intelligence and evidence of criminal activity.

In addition to traditional investigative skills, cybercrime investigators must be well versed in the intricacies of technology to ensure that evidence is not lost or overlooked. Forensic experts must know how to handle electronic evidence to protect its integrity for later use at trial, as well as how to recover and analyze digital evidence from computers with hard drives that store gigabytes of data. And prosecutors must understand the jargon and complexities of high-tech crimes and be able to translate technical evidence into a form understandable to a judge and jury.

Today, special units and task forces are springing up across the county to battle the growing problem of cybercrime. Formed in 1999, the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force is just one of approximately 75 special law enforcement units throughout the United States making significant headway in tracking and bringing online criminals to justice.

Based in Lewiston, ME, the fourmember task force is a collaborative effort of the Northern New England Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (Northern New England ICAC) and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Its role is to focus on the emerging field of computer crimes investigations, electronic evidence recovery and forensic data analysis. In addition to investigating cybercrime originating in the state of Maine, the task force works closely with the New Hampshire State Police and the Chittendon, VT, Unit for Special Investigations.

The task force moves into action when it receives Internet-related complaints either via the tipline on its Web site or from other members of the law enforcement community. Force investigators then go online to track the physical location of the server on which the material in question is stored. Obviously, the location of the server determines which agency will investigate the complaint. When particular Web sites, such as those involving the trafficking of child pornography or fraud, fall outside of their jurisdiction, the Maine task force investigators relay their findings to counterparts in the appropriate jurisdiction.

The types of cases investigated by the Maine Computer Crimes Task Force are almost as diverse as the Web sites on the Internet itself. For homicide cases involving online activity, it is often necessary to perform a forensic analysis of e-mail messages and to conduct Web searches to determine whether the crime may have been premeditated. For cases involving e-mail threats, senders often use accounts established with providers such as Yahoo! and Hotmail, thinking that these accounts provide complete anonymity.

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